Tag Archives: Africa

The Forgotten Issue: The Dark Continent

As voters in the United States are entertained either by the minutia of electoral politics anticipating the next gaffe by Sarah Palin or the latest frivolous update on the artificial and superficial lives of magazine-created celebrities, people in Africa are suffering from a myriad of crises for which the Western World is largely responsible and which we now ignore at our own peril.  Both the media and the two candidates for president ignore Africa because the public has not been stirred by enlightened discourse on events on that continent.

The dystopian catastrophe in Africa has been bypassed by the egregiously tendentious news coverage of the mainstream media resulting in an uninformed public.  One of the reasons that the corporate media is underreporting the cataclysm in Africa derives from the fact the US and other European countries are inextricably complicit in the myriad of humanitarian disasters from which these countries suffer.  Having exploited and wreaked havoc in these countries, the US, for example, discards them as quasi-colonies which have outlived their usefulness.

The African crises are multifaceted and involve human rights violations, starvation, disease, rape, child soldiering and conflicts on a massive scale.  Without the attention of the major powers, an apocalyptic tragedy is inevitable.  Exploited by the major powers, and the United States in particular, Africa has been plunged into an abyss so deep that lifelines are almost out of reach.  U.S efforts to alleviate the suffering are largely inadequate given the scale of the problem and given American responsibility for causing the suffering in the first place.

According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), 27 sub-Saharan nations, where 200 million people are malnourished, are in desperate need of help.  As well, the FAO issued a warning about the tragedy that will result from ongoing conflicts, civil strife, refugee movements, and returnees in 15 of the 27 nations.  To demonstrate the predominant ignorance in the United States about the humanitarian crisis in Africa, two of the 27 countries, the Congo and Somalia, will be examined in detail.

The crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been referred to as the “Forgotten Crisis” or the first “World War” in Africa.  American interventions in the DRC are, to a large extent, responsible for the conflicts, rapes, disease and starvation which reached its apogee between 1998 and 2002 when 3.5 million people died and 2.3 million displaced.

American involvement was critical in 1960 when Patrice Lumumba became the first democratically-elected head of State in the DRC.  Lumumba vowed to remain neutral during the Cold War and was committed to implementing social and economic policies to improve the lives of the Congolese people.  Unfortunately for the DRC, Lumumba was unacceptable to American leaders who first collaborated in the assassination of Lumumba, then installed and supported the brutal, corrupt dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, for 32 years.  Between 1965 and 1991, Mobutu received $1.5 billion in U.S. economic and military aid in exchange for American corporations gaining control over more of Zaire’s (Mobutu renamed the Congo) resources such as gold, diamonds, coltan, cobalt and uranium.  Mobutu’s plundering of the treasury enriched his own wealth which ranked third in the world, while one-third of Zaire’s citizens died from malnutrition.

In 1996 and again in 1998, Ugandan and Rwandan forces invaded the Congo with the support of the United States to steal resources from the Congo.  A UN study released in April 2001 reports that Uganda and Rwanda were looting the resources of the Eastern Congo and illegally exporting them to Western nations.  In addition to the theft of resources, Ugandan and Rwandan troops slaughtered civilians and raped women and children.  According to a Harvard Press Release in 2007, “In some regions of the Eastern DRC, as many as 70% of girls and women of all ages have been raped or sexually.

mutilated…Many women are abandoned by their families and become homeless and destitute, often with their children in tow.”

The invisible heavy hand of American intervention in Somalia can be traced back to Cold War geopolitics but deepened in 1980 when the U.S. signed an arms deal with Somalia which granted American forces the right to use Somalia bases.  As well, Somalia received $680 million in aid, approximately $200 million of which was designated for military purposes.  Siad Barre, the military dictator at the time, spent about one-fifth of Somalia’s budget on arms.  Human Rights Watch reported that during the late 1980s, U.S.-supported Barre killed 50,000 civilians and forced another million to become refugees.

After Barre’s ouster in 1991, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a group of Sharia courts with grassroots support were opposed by clans consisting of warlords.  All opposing sides were unable to agree on the composition of a new government.  A civil war ensued between the ICU and US-sponsored warlords leaving Somalia without a stable government and 350,000 dead from disease, starvation, and civil war.

In its infinite wisdom, the U.S. launched one of its notorious “humanitarian” interventions in Somalia in 1992 which resulted in disaster when the American doctrine of exceptionalism justified the attempted overthrow of the government in Mogadishu resulting in between 6,000 and 10,000 deaths of mostly women and children.   Called “Operation Restore Hope”, its ostensible purpose was to deploy 30,000 marines in Somalia to protect food convoys from the violence of the ongoing civil war.  In fact, the U.S. Administration feared that the ICU was a terrorist organization and might form the government in Mogadishu.  In addition, American oil companies such as Amoco, Chevron, and Conoco had exclusive rights to explore for oil on tens of millions of acres of land in Somalia.  Significantly, Conoco offered to hand over its Mogadishu corporate headquarters for use as the American embassy.  As well, Somalia’s 1,800 mile coast is strategically valuable as a citadel to oversee the shipping lanes between the red sea and Indian Ocean used by the Middle East to ship its oil.  “Operation Restore Hope” ended in humiliation and defeat for American forces but there was no winner as Somalia was plunged into a paroxysm of violence.

Consequently, for the next 15 years, Somalia was plunged into a civil war in which no combination of factions could form a stable government and where all peace agreements or truces were ephemeral.  During this period, thousands of civilians became refugees and thousands more were murdered by one of the many factions vying for power.

After both UN and American forces had withdrawn from Somalia in 1995, Mohamed Farak Aidid declared himself president but continual fighting among factions resulted in his death on August 1, 1996.  The same pattern repeated itself with different factions of warlords opposing the Islamic courts in a deadly struggle to establish supremacy.  In June 7, 2006, Islamic leaders were in control of Mogadishu but were challenged by a counter-offensive of warlords who were supported by the U.S.  American support was fuelled by fear that Somalia might become a Muslim nation.  As well, the CIA was working with Ethiopia who was preparing to invade Somalia for the purpose of destroying the ICU.

With the support of the United States, Ethiopia launched an attack on Somalia by bombing several towns, followed by a number of battles between the Islamic and Ethiopian troops.  By January 1, 2007, the Somali government and Ethiopian troops destroyed the last major stronghold of the ICU.

Exacerbating the violence, U.S. airstrikes began attacking targets where suspected terrorists where located.  As practiced in Afghanistan and Iraq, airstrikes minimize American casualties but are anything but surgically accurate, killing mostly civilians in their wake.  In January 2007, U.S. bombers attacked retreating Islamists, reminiscent of the attacks on Iraqi soldiers retreating from Kuwait.

Ongoing civil war and Ethiopian invasions have been responsible for starvation, rape, assaults, refugees, child soldiering, not to mention the obstacles faced by those who have been attempting to provide humanitarian aid.

Interminable violence forced 400,000 people to abandon their homes in Mogadishu before 2007, whereas in the next year, a further 700,000 became refugees.  UN agencies currently estimate that in Mogadishu alone, sixty percent of its residents have become refugees.

The food crisis has been triggered by increased transportation costs, conflict related disruptions in the distribution of food, rising food prices and massive displacement of Somalis due to ubiquitous violence.  According to UN surveys, acute malnutrition ranges between fourteen percent and twenty-five percent depending on the region.  Estimates on the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance lies between 1.5 and 2 million people.  Amnesty International reports that U.S.-backed Ethiopian troops have routinely slit the throats of civilians, brutally raped women of all ages, and destroyed entire neighborhoods suspected of harboring terrorists.

By supporting the warlords and Ethiopians, the United States shares responsibility for the humanitarian crisis.  American support consisted of supplying air and naval power to the Ethiopian military and deploying Special Forces Units on the ground in order to ensure the neutralization of the Islamic Courts Union.

Twenty-five other African nations are experiencing similar tragedies bur Americans are unaware of their connection to the problems in Africa.  For example, thirty percent of the children in the Congo are not in school but mining for coltan which is an essential ingredient in the manufacture of electronic products.  As we consume more and more computers, cell phones, and televisions, more children will be needed to mine coltan while, at the same time, greater violence will ensue as nations compete for another ever-diminishing resource.  Despite the scope of the humanitarian crisis, Americans are unable to recognize the relationship between their obsession with consumption and entertainment and the suffering of the people in Africa.

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